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Chris Hedges Speaks on Osama bin Laden’s Death

Posted on May 1, 2011
AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Chris Hedges, speaking at a Truthdig fundraising event in Los Angeles on Sunday evening, made these remarks about Osama bin Laden’s death.

Click to listen to the audio, or read the transcript below:

I know that because of this announcement, that reportedly Osama bin Laden was killed, Bob [Truthdig Editor Robert Scheer] wanted me to say a few words about it … about al-Qaida. I spent a year of my life covering al-Qaida for The New York Times. It was the work in which I, and other investigative reporters, won the Pulitzer Prize. And I spent seven years of my life in the Middle East. I was the Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times. I’m an Arabic speaker. And when someone came over and told ... me the news, my stomach sank. I’m not in any way naive about what al-Qaida is. It’s an organization that terrifies me. I know it intimately.

But I’m also intimately familiar with the collective humiliation that we have imposed on the Muslim world. The expansion of military occupation that took place throughout, in particular the Arab world, following 9/11—and that this presence of American imperial bases, dotted, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Doha—is one that has done more to engender hatred and acts of terror than anything ever orchestrated by Osama bin Laden.

And the killing of bin Laden, who has absolutely no operational role in al-Qaida—that’s clear—he’s kind of a spiritual mentor, a kind of guide … he functions in many of the ways that Hitler functioned for the Nazi Party. We were just talking with Warren [Beatty] about [Ian] Kershaw’s great biography of Hitler, which I read a few months ago, where you hold up a particular ideological ideal and strive for it. That was bin Laden’s role. But all actual acts of terror, which he may have signed off on, he no way planned.


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I think that one of the most interesting aspects of the whole rise of al-Qaida is that when Saddam Hussein … I covered the first Gulf War, went into Kuwait with the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, was in Basra during the Shiite uprising until I was captured and taken prisoner by the Iraqi Republican Guard. I like to say I was embedded with the Iraqi Republican Guard. Within that initial assault and occupation of Kuwait, bin Laden appealed to the Saudi government to come back and help organize the defense of his country. And he was turned down. And American troops came in and implanted themselves on Muslim soil.

When I was in New York, as some of you were, on 9/11, I was in Times Square when the second plane hit. I walked into The New York Times, I stuffed notebooks in my pocket and walked down the West Side Highway and was at Ground Zero four hours later. I was there when Building 7 collapsed. And I watched as a nation drank deep from that very dark elixir of American nationalism … the flip side of nationalism is always racism, it’s about self-exaltation and the denigration of the other.

And it’s about forgetting that terrorism is a tactic. You can’t make war on terror. Terrorism has been with us since Sallust wrote about it in the Jugurthine wars. And the only way to successfully fight terrorist groups is to isolate [them], isolate those groups, within their own societies. And I was in the immediate days after 9/11 assigned to go out to Jersey City and the places where the hijackers had lived and begin to piece together their lives. I was then very soon transferred to Paris, where I covered all of al-Qaida’s operations in the Middle East and Europe.

So I was in the Middle East in the days after 9/11. And we had garnered the empathy of not only most of the world, but the Muslim world who were appalled at what had been done in the name of their religion. And we had major religious figures like Sheikh Tantawi, the head of al-Azhar—who died recently—who after the attacks of 9/11 not only denounced them as a crime against humanity, which they were, but denounced Osama bin Laden as a fraud … someone who had no right to issue fatwas or religious edicts, no religious legitimacy, no religious training. And the tragedy was that if we had the courage to be vulnerable, if we had built on that empathy, we would be far safer and more secure today than we are.

We responded exactly as these terrorist organizations wanted us to respond. They wanted us to speak the language of violence. What were the explosions that hit the World Trade Center, huge explosions and death above a city skyline? It was straight out of Hollywood. When Robert McNamara in 1965 began the massive bombing campaign of North Vietnam, he did it because he said he wanted to “send a message” to the North Vietnamese—a message that left hundreds of thousands of civilians dead.

These groups learned to speak the language we taught them. And our response was to speak in kind. The language of violence, the language of occupation—the occupation of the Middle East, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—has been the best recruiting tool al-Qaida has been handed. If it is correct that Osama bin Laden is dead, then it will spiral upwards with acts of suicidal vengeance. And I expect most probably on American soil. The tragedy of the Middle East is one where we proved incapable of communicating in any other language than the brute and brutal force of empire.

And empire finally, as Thucydides understood, is a disease. As Thucydides wrote, the tyranny that the Athenian empire imposed on others it finally imposed on itself. The disease of empire, according to Thucydides, would finally kill Athenian democracy. And the disease of empire, the disease of nationalism … these of course are mirrored in the anarchic violence of these groups, but one that locks us in a kind of frightening death spiral. So while I certainly fear al-Qaida, I know its intentions. I know how it works. I spent months of my life reconstructing every step Mohamed Atta took. While I don’t in any way minimize their danger, I despair. I despair that we as a country, as Nietzsche understood, have become the monster that we are attempting to fight.

Thank you.

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Blackspeare's avatar

By Blackspeare, May 2, 2011 at 6:41 am Link to this comment

Contrary to some pundits the death of UBL will significantly and detrimentally impact al-Qaeda.  USL, while not totally involved in day-to-day operations or planning, was a symbol of their philosophy and that was excised rather quickly.  The sting that al-Qaeda feels will not dissipate soon and the death of USL probably means that al-Qaeda is heading to the dust bin of history.

As a side note——it’s been mentioned many times that history shows us that empires rise and fall.  And that has been certainly true except those past empires did not exist in true global times though they thought they did.  With the state of today’s communications, intelligence, military positioning and weaponry, the USA is the 1000 year Reich in spite of any economic turbulence ahead.

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By Birch, May 2, 2011 at 6:37 am Link to this comment

@cripes Well Said!

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katsteevns's avatar

By katsteevns, May 2, 2011 at 6:19 am Link to this comment

OzarkMichael, faithfully feeding the flames of American nationalism, superpatriotism and the divine providence complex. Keep up the good work, chap.

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By babka, May 2, 2011 at 6:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Murderers die with the ones we kill. So Obama kept the promise that helped him
get elected. So funny to hear him speak of a gunshot to the head and quick burial
at sea as “justice”. vigilante justice, the living out of the Yale cowboy’s “dead or
alive”. the wimp halfbreed, mocked for his talk softly carry a big Military stick
comes through like the Little Engine That Could, yes we can yes he did. What did
we do?

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By radson, May 2, 2011 at 5:50 am Link to this comment

Special Announcement from the CIA


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By Wikileaks for Nobel, May 2, 2011 at 5:41 am Link to this comment

We celebrate death. 

That says enough about our culture to warrant our concern.

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By Elizabeth Tjader, May 2, 2011 at 5:32 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I also knew I’d find a much needed level of compassion, truth and sanity with Mr. Hedges on this particular subject.

I went to bed last night wondering what kind of country we are that we dance in the streets and celebrate murdering? I don’t have television, thank God, so I didn’t have to watch Obama feign his phony leadership or all the millionaire pundits flex their moronic muscles. But even more incredulous are the many naive morons in this country, many of those dancing in the streets, who don’t understand the thousands of innocent people for whom we, the U.S.A., are responsible for murdering. The World Trade Center, as horrific as that event was, is peanuts compared to what we’ve done to other countries. I wonder how the families of all the innocent Afghani and Iraqi people we’ve killed these last ten years were feeling as Obama delivered his mighty speech last night?

I, too, expect there is a retaliatory plan in the works that will make our heads spin. Killing bin Laden will not stop terrorism.

There is something fishy about this story. Frankly, it seems like perfect timing for ushering in Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. We’re not getting the whole story.

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OzarkMichael's avatar

By OzarkMichael, May 2, 2011 at 5:32 am Link to this comment

Chris Hedges said: “These groups learned to speak the language we taught them.”

My how convenient these groups are for Hedges and for the Leftists here. These groups are like a force of nature. They dont think or decide anything for themselves, they cant make a moral judgements, you merely press a button and they go crazy.

How innocent and naive they were. They certainly didnt know the language of violence until America came along. Poor dears.

Excluding of course their own cultures, which had a little violence in it. Excluding also their own history which is marked by violence, also their own religion which used the sword and conquest. Most of all excluding their own humanity, which is the same mix of good and evil which we all share. Excluding their own intelligence, excluding their own free will… and more… then yes we must say that what they did was all our fault. But you have to exclude an awful lot to get there.

If the Left wants to patronize them and treat them like helpless children, treat them as sub-human, then yes it is our fault, and not only our fault in a general sense, but conservative’s fault specifically.

Another great article by Hedges, and the Truthdig cicadas buzz with approval.

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By SoTexGuy, May 2, 2011 at 5:31 am Link to this comment

Robespierre got it spot on.

America has thrown away another (if imperfect and sordid) chance at healing and building.. all for a quick ‘revenge’ high.

If a group of people assembled outside the White House or anywhere to celebrate the violent death of a mean dog and it’s litter .. they would be denounced..

Bin Laden? he passed long ago and had been replaced by something of imagination and hype.


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katsteevns's avatar

By katsteevns, May 2, 2011 at 5:27 am Link to this comment

“The tragedy of the Middle East is one where we proved incapable of communicating in any other language than the brute and brutal force of empire.”

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katsteevns's avatar

By katsteevns, May 2, 2011 at 5:22 am Link to this comment

“I was there when Building 7 collapsed. And I watched as a nation drank deep from that very dark elixir of American nationalism … the flip side of nationalism is always racism, it’s about self-exaltation and the denigration of the other. ”

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By Nancy M. Grace, May 2, 2011 at 4:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I greatly appreciate Chris Hedges’s comments and understand his points about the cycle of violence. I’m very troubled, however, by his statements regarding Adolf Hitler, which somehow imply that Hitler was not responsible for the genocide and other atrocities perpetrated by the Third Reich. Hitler certainly had great symbolic power, but no one should ever underestimate the magnitude of such power, which is self perpetuating. And Hitler definitely knew of the many vile acts that led to the deaths of millions of innocent people. So too did Bin Laden. Symbolic power is not a license for plausible deniability. Both Hitler and Bin Laden must be held accountable for all the killing done in their names.

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By Ray Duray, May 2, 2011 at 3:54 am Link to this comment

I’m always troubled when national hysteria doesn’t match the fact case.

Chris Hedges asks and observes: “What were the explosions that hit the World Trade Center, huge explosions and death above a city skyline? It was straight out of Hollywood.”

But then he fails to make some elementary logical connections. For example, it was discovered that fragmented human remains, consistent with explosions in the WTC towers was discovered on the roof of the abandoned Deutsche Bank buiding when demolition was undertaken in 2006. This is conclusive forensic evidence that explosions did occur in the WTC towers. Yet, this is completely at odds with the “official story” of how the towers came down (i.e. “fires and gravitational collapse”). Because the fragmented human remains on that rooftop are totally inconsistent with the official story. I’d love to understand how Chris Hedges squares this circle.

Furthermore, there have been IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) radars in place on the Pentagon tied into surface-to-air missile systems since the 1960s. Again, I’d love to have a fine investigative reporter like Chris Hedges look into just how al Qaeda managed to turn off those IFF radars on the morning of 9/11.

We deserve answers.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, May 2, 2011 at 3:30 am Link to this comment

The Chinese news media has another story on this.

Somebody is talking out their ass.

Speaking of asses, I wonder if Trump is going to ask for a death certificate?

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By ardee, May 2, 2011 at 3:15 am Link to this comment

Though this is a bit rough, as Hedges was no doubt speaking extemporaneously, many phrases shine through.

I wonder if Americans now expect the “terrorism” to cease? I wonder how disappointed some will be when it continues unabated? I wonder how long it is going to take for our people to finally understand the fact that it is our nation, in our name, that commits the most acts of terrorism on this planet.

It is American foreign policy that created Osama bin Laden, it is our actions exploiting nations resources, installing puppet governments, using our military might to gain competitive edge in business dealings that creates such as AlQaeda. These people do not call themselves terrorist, they seek to free themselves from western rule, and we, in our stupidity, allow our own nation to continue to create them.

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By DarthMiffy, May 2, 2011 at 2:51 am Link to this comment

Sigh. I knew I’d find sanity with Mr. Hedges. I fully anticipate the rest of the media
will be full of the “revenge for the senseless death of innocent people, etc.” No
reflection on why the World Trade Centers were targeting and the so-called
innocents within. I mean, if YOUR country and village was being decimated so that
huge corporations could make simply money, how thrilled would YOU be?

I think it is America’s turn to experience the economic slavery we have inflicted on
others for centuries.

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By WinstonSmith, May 2, 2011 at 2:40 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You probably have already written about this but there’s an excellent study on how to best combat terrorism:

And it shows that military use works - only 7% of the time.

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drbhelthi's avatar

By drbhelthi, May 2, 2011 at 2:31 am Link to this comment

Many heart-felt comments by Chris Hedges, a real insider with insight in
the misery of Mid-East Moslems and the plight of the world, perhaps ten
years after the real death of Osama bin Laden.

It appears that indigenous leaders of the Mid-East and North Africa
have begun to realize that bribery by the CIA IS THE INITIAL STEP TO
ANNIHILATION by NAZI-type henchmen, trained by the USGOV.  Indigenous
Moslem leaders are not retarded, only blinded by “green-back wealth” for
a few years. Saudi leadership aligning with Russia is a bit late. And,
where do they stash their dollars?  Zionist “account freezing” has
reached epidemic proportions.

We might remind ourselves daily of the summary statement, “We’ll know
our disinformation program is complete when everything the American
public believes is false.”—William Casey, CIA Director (from first
staff meeting, 1981, as reported by the patriotic, American journalist-
historian of the Jewish faith, Mrs. Mae Brussel.)

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By Rudi Pawlitschko, May 2, 2011 at 2:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you for this important article. “USA! USA! USA!” chanting is not the solution. Osama bin Laden was a symptom. We need a cure for the disease! And the disease is “empire”. I doubt that Obama understands this.

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By Mustafa, May 2, 2011 at 2:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As a Muslim, I hope there are no retaliatory attacks
and honestly, I doubt that it would happen. There is
not a single Muslim that I know, even friends of
friends, etc., that had any appreciation for Osama.

On the other hand, there are a lot of crazies out
there and if another attack happened, it’s back to
Japanese WWII internment (concentration) camps for
Muslims, or at least people who look Arab. I might be
exaggerating but given the history of this country
especially it’s policy towards it’s own citizens in
recent times, nothing is far-fetched.

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By Steve E, May 2, 2011 at 2:10 am Link to this comment

Payback will last generations and the corporate monsters will be happy. The seeds
of revenge are sown and the blood harvest will consume us.

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By cripes, May 2, 2011 at 2:06 am Link to this comment

Aside from the debate whether Bin Laden was responsible for 9/11, Al-Queda or domestic violence seems to me an angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin debate. Interesting, but useless.

He was a single man, probably isolated and sick, and the consensus is that he was operationally ineffectual. If he was even alive the past ten years, after all; the peasants are told what their rulers want them to hear.

Bin Laden was never indicted for 9/11, and his FBI poster only mentions him as a suspect in the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

So we assassinated a symbol. And three of Qaddafi’s grandchildren and a son. And how many thousands more in the middle east and around the world? What exactly did Qaddafi do against the US to merit assassination by fiat from the American king? No one seems to know, or care.

We must remember Bin Laden as a product of the anti-soviet, CIA intelligence asset factory. This duplicitous operation straddles the planet with a netherworld of spooks, spies, drug dealers and rogues. It hasn’t reformed, it has metastasized.

Mortal damage is inflicted to the remains of our democratic state every time the US exercises its extrajudicial assassination program, expanded by Obama from the Bush years. We are lawless.

240 years ago our forefathers revolted against the tyrannical power of Kings to mete out life or death against all without recourse to law. They were right to do so.

Now we throw this heritage away in a foolish orgy of cheerleading to murder and assassination. Openly proclaiming “justice” as long as the crime is heinous enough to justify hanging before a trial.

Obama is morphing into the “war president” PR brand that now is a prerequisite for incumbent presidents seeking reelection.

Saddam, Qaddafi, Bin Laden. Blood lust theater for the rubes. Do you feel manipulated? You should.

The whole thing is disgusting.

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Robespierre115's avatar

By Robespierre115, May 2, 2011 at 1:59 am Link to this comment

Chris Hedges is always a voice of sanity in a mad world. Just watching the footage of crowds of idiots outside the White House chanting “USA USA” shows that we haven’t learned a damn thing in the last decade.

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